Baseball: Russia beats Troy Christian for third straight regional title, state berth


CINCINNATI — Russia’s incredible multi-sport run in recent years continued Friday.

The Raiders ran away with seven runs in the sixth inning and beat Troy Christian 12-3 in a Division IV regional final game at Cincinnati Princeton High School to earn the squad’s third consecutive state berth.

Several of the team’s players also play for the school’s boys basketball squad, which has earned state berths the last two seasons.

Russia senior center fielder Felix Francis is one of several players who played boys golf last fall and helped that team earn a D-III state berth. Senior left fielder Brayden Monnin has also earned an individual D-III state berth in cross country.

“Five straight state appearances, it really feels unreal,” Francis said shortly after the team posed for photos with another regional championship trophy. “I can’t really tell you how I’m feeling right now because I’m so used to feeling it, but it’s crazy, man.”

Francis was 2 for 3 with 3 RBIs, one double, one walk and two runs. He hit a 2-RBI single in the second to give the squad the lead.

He is the team’s leadoff hitter and helped the squad get going against Troy Christian senior pitcher Carson Dyer, who struck out 10 batters and gave up one hit in an 8-0 win over Fort Loramie in a district final last week.


Dyer kept Troy Christian in it early, but he was pulled after giving up two runs in the sixth, and the Raiders scored five more to secure the win. He gave up eight earned runs on eight hits and six walks against Russia.

“We saw that he throws a lot of curveballs, so we were working in the cage, just way back sitting on the curves,” Francis said. “Expect a curve. Stay off the first pitch curve. We were told to just sit back and be ready for it. So I think we hit him pretty solid.”

Russia (27-4) won the 2022 D-IV state baseball title and finished as runner-up last year. The squad finished as regional runner-up in 2021.

“The numbers are kind of ridiculous when they start getting added up,” Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said. “Winning over 100 games in four seasons for the seniors, who has done that? They’ve been through it in so many different sports, at least two sports, and a handful of them have in three sports.

“So the moments, they’re not too big. They’ve been tested, doesn’t matter what sport. Whether they’ve been a starter in basketball, baseball, golf, running cross, it doesn’t matter.

“Every big moment helps you out the next time, whether you know or not. Not just being a one-sport athlete, it’s knowing the moment and how you react in the big moment and these guys have handled it. Nothing’s been too big for them. We’ve done it again.”

Russia was ranked No. 4 in the final state coaches association D-IV poll of the season and will face No. 1 Berlin Hiland in a state semifinal, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Canal Park in Akron.

Hiland (25-5) beat Russia 14-4 in seven innings in last season’s D-IV state title game.

The Hawks cruised through the Southeast D-IV regional, beating Reedsville Eastern 13-2 and Leesburg Fairfield 18-0 in five-inning games.

“If I’m not wrong, they hit the (crap) out of the ball,” Francis said. “I guess we’ll see what happens. But our pitching has just got to be on, and we’ve got to hit some ourselves.”

Russia had eight hits on Friday, drew 11 walks and had two batters get hit with pitches.

Troy Christian scored two runs in the fifth to pull within 5-3, but Russia pulled away in the sixth.

Dyer hit Francis with a pitch, then walked Braylon Cordonnier. Monnin hit a line-drive single to center to drive in one run, then Hayden Quinter hit an RBI single on a grounder to shortstop to push the gap to 7-3.

Troy Christian took out Dyer and put in Paul McDonald, who walked Jude Counts. With Zeb Schulze at the plate, Monnin scored on a passed ball, just beating Camden Koukol, who chased down the ball behind the plate and dove back. Quinter then scored on a wild pitch to push the gap to 9-3.

Troy Christian brought in Andrew Knostman, who walked Micah Grieshop and Francis to push across two runs. Cordonnier hit a sacrifice fly to push across a run, then Monnin hit into a ground out to end the inning.

Both Dyer and Russia starter Jude Counts struggled early with what appeared to be a tight strike zone. The Eagles left the bases loaded in the first after two walks and a single, and Russia left two on after a single and a walk in the bottom half.

Troy Christian scored one in the top of the second. Jacob Grossnickle hit a line-drive triple along the right-field line with one out, then Knostman drew a walk. Grossnickle scored on a passed ball, but Counts struck out the next two batters to end the threat.

Counts pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up one earned run on two hits and two walks and struck out five batters.

“We had to stay on him, and had to be mentally tough,” Phlipot said of the tight strike zone. “We’ve had (the umpire) before; he’s consistent. I’d like for (the zone) to be a little bit bigger, but it’s consistent.

“So it’s just how you deal with it. You’ve got to be mentally tough when you’re not getting pitches you normally do; just stay tough. Ball’s out of your hand, you can’t do anything about it. He’s just got to be ready to throw in the next one.

“So we had to battle our way through that. And we did. We just stayed at it enough until we got the big inning.”

Ben Rinderle and Cooper Unverferth each drew walks in the bottom of the second, then Micah Grieshop hit a single on a grounder to right to load the bases. Francis hit a 2-RBI single on a hard ground ball to left to give Russia a 2-1 lead. Dyer struck out Braylon Cordonnier and drew a ground out by Brayden Monnin to end the inning.

The Eagles went down in order in the third, and Russia scored one in the bottom half.

Counts hit a single on a line drive to left. Schulze hit a hard ground ball right to Marcus O’Neal at third, and O’Neal fell down after fielding it. His throw to first was late, and first baseman Judah Simmons threw it back to third as Counts advanced.

No one covered third, and Counts scored on the error to give the Raiders a 3-1 lead.

The Raiders added two runs in the fourth. Francis hit a one-out double on a line drive to left, then Cordonnier drew a walk. Monnin was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Quinter hit into a fielder’s choice on a hard ground ball to shortstop, which drove across a run and increased the lead to 4-1.

With Counts at the plate, Quinter went off first base and coaxed a throw to second, and Cordonnier ran in from third to push the lead to 5-1.

The Eagles scored two runs on three hits and two walks in the fifth to cut the gap to two runs, but left the bases loaded.

Will Twiss drew a walk, then Camden Koukol hit a single on a hard ground ball that bounced over Braylon Cordonnier at shortstop into center field. Simmons hit an RBI single on a ground ball that hit off first base and went into shallow right field.

O’Neal hit in an infield pop out, then McDonald hit an RBI single on a grounder to left to cut the gap to 5-3. Ryan Waltz then drew a walk, after which the Raiders replaced Rinderle on the mound with Monnin.

With the bases loaded, Monnin struck out Grossnickle to end the threat.

“Rinderle did a fine job (in relief),” Phlipot said. “The hard ball to shortstop is nine times out of 10 a double play, but it bounces of Braylon’s head. That’s baseball.

“It was fuzzy for a few moments there, but that’s where the experience comes into play. Brayden shut them down, and we stopped them from doing anything else.”

Russia will get to experience another state trip next week, and a week leading into a state berth.

“It’s a little bit more attention, a few cameras in the dugout at practice,” Phlipot said. “We’ll just take a day or two off and enjoy. Let’s get back at it Monday.

“We’ll get a little information about Hiland, but to a certain point, who cares what they do. Let’s just go out and play our game and see what happens.”

The Eagles finish 11-16 overall. They will lose five seniors to graduation: Knostman, Dyer, McDonald, Waltz and Koukol.

Reach Sidney Daily News editor Bryant Billing at 937-538-4822, or follow @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook or @TopBillingSport on X (Twitter).

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Bryant Billing has been at the Sidney Daily News since 2017. He took over as editor in April of 2024 after working as sports editor for the previous 6.5 years. He worked as a reporter and later as an editor for a weekly newspaper in Springfield from 2007 to 2012, managed a Springfield-based website called from 2012 to 2016 and then worked as a freelancer for Cox Media Group Ohio newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News) from 2016 to 2017 before joining the SDN.

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